11 Mar 2011

Experiencing Georgia

Hey! If you open today's (11.03.2011.) newspaper "Georgia Today", you will find there article about us - EVS volunteers in Rustavi! You can check "Georgia Today" electronic version or just read it here:

Maybe you’ve seen them – on the street handing out flyers, conducting environmental campaigns in the market using gestures and a Georgian dictionary to explain themselves, or maybe you’ve seen them in schools, kindergartens and even prisons holding English, French and German lessons. There are currently eleven active young people – European Voluntary Service (EVS) volunteers – who, with support from their host organization Georgian Youth for Europe, are making life in Rustavi more colorful.

Georgian Youth for Europe (GYE) has been working in the city of Rustavi for the last five years and is a voluntary education service for children, young people and adults working with children and youth. The organization works largely on youth information; and non-formal, after-school and environmental education; but it is also active in the field of international cooperation – holding youth exchanges, participating in a range of trainings, seminars and conferences, as well as sending and hosting EVS volunteers.

The European Commission’s (EC) Youth in Action program gives young people from Europe and neighboring countries the opportunity to travel the region and engage in a range of activities, including youth exchanges, voluntary service, joint projects and trainings. The EC covers volunteers’ travel expenses, accommodation, food and even some pocket money for personal expenses. Anyone aged 18 – 30 with the willingness and readiness to experience other countries and their cultures can take part in the program. They must however be motivated, eager to learn and willing to share their experiences with other volunteers and their hosts. Most importantly – the volunteers are not taking part in the program to earn money, but to improve themselves and to bring a valuable contribution to their host countries.

Here in Rustavi, you can find young people from six different European countries – Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, France and Luxembourg – working with GYE. Some of them have been here a couple of months, some already for half a year, but no matter how long a time they have spent in Georgia, they have one aim – to enlarge the horizons of Rustavi’s inhabitants by sharing their knowledge, culture and vision, and at the same time learning about the local people, their way of life and their traditions.

The volunteers have launched some great activities – during the Rustavi City celebrations they invited residents to leave positive messages to their city on a poster or marked in chalk on the pavement, and organized a rope pulling competition. On December 3 – The International day of People with Disabilities – the volunteers sold homemade bijouterie and sweets to collect money for Rustavi Disability Centre. The volunteers are actively involved in GYE’s work – including project planning and writing. Some hold art classes in the local kindergarten, some lead sports activities in Rustavi social centre, some are assisting language teachers in local schools, sharing modern teaching techniques and providing everyday support.

“In school, we try to encourage the kids to speak English. We talk about things they are interested in - sometimes more serious things, sometimes not. They love to play so we we’ve devised a load of games and quizzes that encourage them to practice their English. Together we are having lots of fun!” says Ewa Mras, a volunteer from Poland.

Orinta Kelpрaitл from Lithuania spends most of her week in the Youth Initiative Studio youth centre, teaching children how to make jewelry and giving English classes. “The children are my main motivation to work,” she says, “they want to learn things that they can’t study in school. I really enjoyed the week when we took photographs with them – I helped them to capture moments and was a model when needed, at the end of it all we held a great exhibition for the kids, their families and other local residents. When we were preparing for the International day of People with Disabilities, all the children donated their handmade jewelry to the jumble-sale.”

French volunteer, Marie-Anais Vauttier has established an environmental protection team in Rustavi which works to raise local people’s awareness of environmental issues like recycling and waste reduction.

The volunteers enjoy learning about Georgian culture, traditions, food and language. While on one hand they are engaged in a lot of teaching, they are all also studying Georgian too. Food is another great opportunity for the volunteers and their hosts to share – every week the volunteers and their Georgian friends come together to cook common dinner. The recipes are as diverse as the company – starting from Polish onion soup and French pudding, and ending with Spanish tortillas and Georgian khinkali.

Some of the volunteers are taking dance classes to be able dance with their Georgian friends at parties and in restaurants. “We were expecting something easy and relaxing, but we soon realized that Georgian dances are far from easy. Luckily, our teachers have a great sense of humor so we never get bored. They even forgive us when our moves are too ‘Egyptian-like’. We will never be able to dance like Georgians, but we love it anyway!” says Cristina Kroon from Estonia.

Joe Hermann, a volunteer from Luxembourg, told Georgia Today that he decided to come to Georgia because he wanted to see something “completely” different. “Neighboring countries have different nature and traditions, but still it is very similar to my country. When you have a chance to stay for several months in a country you don’t know a thing about? I think it is a real adventure and great challenge.”

If you want to find out more about what the volunteers in Rustavi are up to you can follow their blog at www.evsrustavi.blogspot.com or log on to GYA’s website at www.gye.ge. And remember, the opportunity to travel, gain experience and learn another language is not only open to European citizens but also to youngsters from neighboring countries like Georgia as well!

Editor’ Note: Zane Abelite-Medne is a volunteer from Latvia. She has been in Georgia for nine months and will stay for one more. She finished her bachelor’s degree in Public Relations and Communication two years ago.

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